This weekend, details leaked out from a report of the Dutch Safety Board, analyzing the way a large fire in the Dutch city of Moerdijk (near Rotterdam) was handled by the involved parties. Apart from the critical remarks about the handling of the crisis, experts slammed crisis communication by the responsible government authorities.
“A crisis is much alike an event, with all its complications, whereas the main difference is of course that you don’t want a crisis to happen,” says Marieke Duijts, Client Director and communications expert at Wow!works. “It is interesting to see that despite strict plans and regular disaster simulations, things didn’t go as planned” she added, suggesting that governmental organizations can learn valuable lessons from the event industry when it comes to crisis communications planning.
Although the full report has not yet been released, analysis shows that over a dozen organizations was involved with crisis communications at the time of the crisis. This lead to conflicting messages and damaged the citizens’ confidence in local authorities.
One of the key rules of crisis communications is to keep the decision making circle small. “It seems this fundamental rule has not been respected in the first place,” says Duijts after a first glance over media citing the report.
The latter could well be a typical challenge of countries like the Netherlands, where a large population lives in a relatively small area, where cities are small and where a crisis easily stretches across city boundaries.